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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Walking challenge in Oman to highlight plight of almost-extinct Arabian leopard

Emirati adventurer has organised 50km walk from mountains above Salalah to the Arabian sea, where participants will learn about the critically endangered big cat.

Husaak founder Ali Husain hopes the Arabian Leopard Challenge will help get more people involved in saving the big cat from extinction. Courtesy Ali Husain
Husaak founder Ali Husain hopes the Arabian Leopard Challenge will help get more people involved in saving the big cat from extinction. Courtesy Ali Husain

An Emirati adventurer is using a 50km walking challenge from the top of the lush mountains of Salalah to the edge of the Arabian Sea to throw the spotlight on the critically endangered Arabian leopard.

The Arabian Leopard Challenge, which takes place at the end of September, starts from Jebal Samhan mountain and sees participants trek through three different eco-systems in a day, past one of the largest sinkholes in the world, Tawi Attair, while also learning about the rich wildlife in the area.

“The challenge begins at 1,500 metres in a very bare, rocky desert and sunny environment, then you start walking into the monsoon, and everything turns from yellow to green,” said Ali Husain, founder of Husaak, the adventure group organising the challenge.

“You’ve got the trees and rain, the reef and rivers and many waterfalls all the way down to the ocean.”

Experts will be on-hand to teach participants about the Arabian leopard, of which there are only about 50 left in Oman and a total of only about 200 in the world.

The UAE is at the forefront of efforts to increase numbers, with the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah taking in a male and female who have since gone onto breed at least 35 offspring. Last year the emirate also opened the Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Centre, on the outskirts of Kalba, which is home to some of the leopards.

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Animal conservation as well as eco-tourism are at the heart of the challenge, said Mr Husain.

“We work closely with the World Wildlife Fund, and this event has an educational animal conversation theme about the endangered wildlife in Arabia,” said the 35-year-old.

He added that 50km might sound like a vast distance to cover in one day but that it is suitable for almost everyone, including children.

“It is downhill and very easy,” Mr Husain said. “Also, along the way, we have a station every five kilometres, and there you can decide if you want to rest, eat, exit the challenge or continue.”

Mr Husain founded Husaak five years ago to offer eco-tourism in the UAE and Oman and he said that there is much more to explore in Dhofar, the Omani province home to Salalah.

“Everyone speaks of Salalah but they only see one aspect of it; they go to see the city, the greenery and that’s it,” he said.

“They don’t know the richness of the animals and microclimates that are created within the monsoon, so basically the objective of this is to present Dhofar in a completely different way.

“Everyone thinks of Arabia as a desert like Liwa but when you go there [to Dhofar] it is like you are almost in Africa, it is so green and there are so many animals.”

Working with Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, Mr Husain hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the Arabian leopard as well as promote Dhofar as an eco-tourism, adventure and wildlife destination.

Eco-tourism is very much in vogue at the moment. The UN has named this year the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and tourist organisations are keen to get involved. In the UAE, for example, RAK Tourism Development Authority has committed to making tourism more sustainable and the Al Wadi resort in the emirate is home to a conservation reserve that aims to be a centre for responsible tourism.

Across the UAE, there are now also 43 officially protected areas that span more than 14 per cent of the country’s territory.

Mr Husain said promoting eco-tourism among GCC nationals was an important way to have people connect with nature and change their mindsets.

“There is a mind shift when you take them to nature and they reconnect and they completely change within 24 hours,” he said.

“We do everything with our own hands. As a customer you will be there working, not sitting there expecting to be served - you will start the fire, fix the tent, set up camp. Everybody works.

“In a world where everything is social media and corporate and emails, it is good to go back and use your hands and disconnect from that.”

Anyone interested in taking part in the challenge can visit www.husaak.com/alc to register.